Researchers believe roughly 50-percent of the population suffers from dandruff, a scalp condition that causes dryness and flaking. The same study concluded Americans spend over $300 million dollars annually on dandruff treatments — shampoos, serums, conditioners, and the ilk. This number's incredibly high because the issue — neither a disease nor a disorder, technically — is rarely something that requires medical attention.
After a week or two of using a daily anti-dandruff shampoo, your symptoms should subside. But that's not really the point. Dryness typically triggers itching, which amplifies flakes. They'll appear in the scalp but also at the neckline and on the shoulders. Knowing this, dandruff sufferers steer clear of dark clothes and even don hats on days when it's especially bad.
What Is Dandruff? And, Why Does It Happen?
Dandruff, I'd argue, does more psychological damage than it does physical. Think: self-consciousness, embarrassment, and constant concern over flakes accumulating on your clothes. But again, cases are incredibly common — more so in men than women — and rarely something to really worry about. Scientifically, what causes dandruff isn't crystal clear, researchers revealed, and there aren't exactly facilities dedicated to figuring it out. (There's no "Insert Rich Donor Name Here" Institute for Dandruff Control, for example.) It can appear as a result of a reaction to a new shampoo or styling product, from forgoing a shower for too long, because of a fungus called malassezia, or as a byproduct of another skin condition, like eczema or psoriasis. Dandruff is not purely a marker of poor hygiene.
"Dandruff occurs when the microbiome of their scalp becomes imbalanced," Anabel Kingsley, consultant trichologist at Philip Kingsley, says. "Yeasts naturally live on our scalps, and usually do not cause any problems. However, when a certain species of yeast called the Malassezia yeasts overgrow, this can cause skin cells to divide too rapidly – leading to tell-tale flakes and itching. Malassezia yeasts thrive in an oily environment, and so are likely to overgrow if you shampoo infrequently or have a naturally oily scalp."
What Ingredients Will Fix My Flaky Scalp?
Like the aforementioned spending figure suggests, there is a plethora of anti-dandruff products out there, both in big retailers and niche, skincare-focused stores alike. Most rely on an active ingredient to address the issue — ones like salicylic acid, zinc pyrithione, or selenium sulfide. In more extreme cases, medicinal shampoos might use coal tar or ketoconazole. Those into all-natural remedies have cited tea tree oil and, shocking here, truly, conditioner as quick fixes. After all, a moisturized scalp is less likely to flake because it...isn't, drumroll please, dry.
No matter the severity of your situation, the smartest starting place is an anti-dandruff shampoo. Let our list guide you on your way.